A new study suggests that the unequal division of household and childcare responsibilities shared between spouses may reflect men's and women's actual preferences—not "sexism" in the home.
According to findings published in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, entitled "Gendered perspectives on sharing the load: Men's and women's attitudes toward family roles and household and childcare tasks," the study discovered that women enjoyed childcare tasks more than their male counterparts did. The publication also found that women reported greater desire to account for these duties.
While mothers are tending to work more often outside the home compared to housebound constraints of the past, the division of family roles among men and women still leans towards the latter taking on childcare burdens.
Although most scholars presume that this gender disparity reflects societal beliefs about sex, study authors April Bleske-Rechek and Michaela Gunseor proposes that it may have more to do with male and female inclinations.
One theory by Bleske-Rechek and Gunseor argues that gender distinctions in preferred family roles were selected through evolution.
According to this evolutionary theory, women reinforced their reproductive success by investing in the health of offspring. In contrast, men competed with other gents over access to the limited number of child-bearing females. Hence, males benefited from traits that facilitated competition and physical strength, while women, benefited from traits that promoted reproduction.
"Although these gender disparities in time use are lamented in the media as inequitable," the study's abstract explains, "differences in men's and women's preferences may help explain the disparities." Few studies before have considered men's and women's own attitudes toward household burdens—instead, just pointed at and assumed misogyny perpetuated by the ever-despotic patriarchy.
Bleske-Rechek and Gunseor sought to fill this gap. A group of emerging adults aged 18 to 23 and middle-aged participants, the majority of whom were married or cohabitating with at least one child, cited the degree to which they like or dislike 58 different household tasks and 40 assorted childcare tasks; how they would prefer to split up each task with their partner; and their ideal prioritization of work and family. In both samples, male–female differences in enjoyment of household and childcare tasks paralleled male–female differences in task-split preferences, meaning the affinities are gender-based across age brackets.
For example, men liked home maintenance and yard care more than women did, and, in turn, preferred self-assignment to those chores. Although there were several discrepancies such as decorating and shopping, there was not one single childcare task that men liked more than women did, the study revealed.
The subjects were also asked to indicate along a scale whether they would prefer to be the breadwinner, the homemaker, or to share these roles. Across both samples, although 56 percent of men and 56 percent of women chose the egalitarian option, 36 percent of women ranked closer toward homemaker and 35 percent of men ranked closer toward breadwinner, the study uncovered.
Thus, the study's results imply that "aims of gender equity across the board may be difficult to achieve and may also work against" individual preferences as desired responsibility was found to be linked to enjoyment.
The at-home paradigm is more nuanced than feminist criticisms of so-called antiquated gender roles. Unequal functions might not signal unfair treatment or cause resentment among couples. The authors nudge future research to explore whether task preferences among spouses align with task division within partnerships and how these two factors relate to relationship satisfaction.